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Taco Cards: Mark Grace

Another former Diamondback, Mark Grace will always be a Cub to me. I loved watching him on WGN growing up, and rooted for him every time he came to bat.

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What’s your favorite baseball season?

I can’t say I’ve ever been asked this question. Favorite team, favorite player, favorite baseball card…sure. But favorite baseball season? I had never even thought to answer this unasked question.

But the answer is an easy one for me. 1988. Hands-down, without a doubt. This was the first year I really paid attention to baseball. I had been collecting baseball cards for a few years before this, but besides watching a few Reds games on television and in person, I never really took notice of the game as a whole. In 1988 that all changed, with the emergence of some exciting rookies: Ron Gant, Mark Grace, and the eventual Rookie of the Year and still one of my favorite players, Chris Sabo. The excitement of the 1988 season continued in the postseason for me as I watched Kirk Gibson pull off the unthinkable pinch-hit home run off Dennis Eckersley in the World Series as the Dodgers went on to beat the Bash Brothers. I don’t care if you love or hate the Dodgers, that World Series was fun to watch.

The other two seasons that come to mind, but neither comes close to 1988 in my mind, are 1990 and 2010. 1990 saw the Reds go wire-to-wire, sweeping the Oakland A’s in the World Series behind the bat of Billy Hatcher and the pitching of Jose Rijo. It was a great time to be a Reds fan.

2010 was an exciting year as well, watching Joey Votto rise up as the next superstar produced by the Big Red Machine, seeing Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs endure adversity and mature at the plate, and following the progress of the young pitchers, Mike Leake, Sam LeCure, Matt Maloney, and of course, the Cuban Missile Aroldis Chapman. Yes, the season ended on a sour note due to the manager’s foolish decision to start an injured shortstop in a playoff game, but it was a fun ride.

So what are your favorite baseball seasons, and why?

My trip to the card shop…

My son and I visited one of the local card shops this afternoon, and I walked away pretty happy (as did he). He picked up some singles…Ken Griffey Jr., Chone Figgins (have no idea why he picked him out), Warren Spahn, another baseball guy (can’t remember who though), and Michael Jordan (normally, I’m against basketball cards, but I make an exception for MJ). I picked up several packs, including a few from the dollar bins. Here’s what I got…

1988 Topps

I grabbed two cello packs of these bad boys, even though I already have a ton. I just couldn’t resist the shiny All-Star cards on the top (pictured above). Add to that a Bo Jackson showing through the back of one of the packs, and it was a no-brainer. $1 per pack and 42 cards in each. Even if they are all doubles (which is quite possible), I still got Eric the Red and the HOF 3B Mike Schmidt.

1989 Fleer League Leaders

This is actually a set, 44 cards, and was only a buck. Again, Eric Davis is in the set, as well as Mark Grace, Don Mattingly, Jose Canseco…lots of late 1980s/early 1990s superstars. I would have picked up two if I had seen another box of them, but this was all I saw.

2006, 2007, and 2008 Topps

The 2006 and 2007 packs were $1 each, I think they were series 2, and there wasn’t much to brag about in them. I think I did score a Mantle (I don’t care how much they’re worth, I just like pulling the Mantle cards). I also got a Mantle out of the 6 packs of 2008 I got, as well as the Joey Votto A&G card, a couple of the All-Star Rookie 50th Anniversary cards, an Ichiro base cards and the A-Rod pictured above.

I was pretty happy with my purchases today. And I almost bought…

1988 Donruss Baseball’s Best

I’ve already got this set, but I was thinking the other day about how nice these cards would look autographed. The set was only $5, which I thought was a steal, but for some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to buy it.

When I got home, I hopped on Beckett.com and looked it up (using the “My Collections” tool). The 336 cards in the set all add up to $70.90. $70.90!?!? The guy was selling it for $5…what’s wrong with him? I then headed over to eBay, and found this. Go down to the very bottom, and there’s a “Buy It Now” for $74.99…and that’s for a whole CASE of sets. Not sure how many came in a case, but I’m betting at least 12 or 15.

In any case, I will be making a purchase the next time I’m at the store, just because I really think they would look nice autographed and don’t want to break the set in case someone doesn’t return the cards.

They also have some old wax boxes cheap…1988 and 1989 Score for $5, 1988 and 1990 Donruss, and some football and basketball stuff too. I can’t wait for my tax refund to hit the bank.

The Cubs

My favorite baseball teams are the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds. I was born and raised in northern Kentucky, not even fifteen minutes away from Riverfront Stadium, so the Reds is a no-brainer. The Cubs is a bit more fun to explain, for me at least.

When I was in high school, my dad would take me to ballparks instead of beaches during summer vacation. I’ve been to Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, Fenway Park, the old Three Rivers, old Comiskey, new Comiskey, and Tiger Stadium among others. But the best was Wrigley Field. The year was 1989, the Cubs were in the middle of a pennant race, and Jerome Walton was on his way to the Rookie of the Year award. We sat in the right field bleachers with a bunch of drunks and loudmouths, but that just made the experience better. Rick Sutcliffe was pitching that day, and all the stars were in the lineup: Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Walton, and Dwight Smith. I can’t remember the specifics of the game, even the opposing team (I think it was the Expos, but can’t be certain), but I do remember for sure that the Cubs won! Cubs won! Holy cow!

From that day forward, the Cubs were my favorite team. As a baseball card collector, I was already a fan of the stars. I would have rooted for Grace as the NL ROY in 1988 if it weren’t for Chris Sabo being in the league that year. Dawson was a monster slugger, and Ryno was a great second bagger. But it was that day at Wrigley that forever cemented my love for the Cubs.

My favorite Cubs of all-time come from that era, most already mentioned above (minus Dwight Smith, never really went crazy for him). Others include Greg Maddux, Doug Dascenzo, and Shawon Dunston. In fact, Dunston was my favorite overall player for a few years in the 1990s.

Now, I haven’t followed baseball much since the late 1990s. I’ll try to catch a game here and there, and will sort of follow the playoffs, but I don’t know much about who the big stars are today besides the obvious: Jeter, A-Rod, Bonds. I couldn’t tell you who is playing for the Cubs now other than a couple of pitchers (Wood and Zambrano…Prior left, right?). I’ve tried to get back into it, but I’m older and have other distractions that I didn’t have in grade school when I was first learning the game. I will try again this season, but I’m still not sure. Maybe if I start picking up some cheap packs of ballcards that will help me. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll continue to remember that magical year of 1989, when I fell in love with the Cubbies.

The most dedicated fans

Back in the mid-1990s, when the internet was still “catching on,” a number of people created websites for their various passions. Their favorite band, TV show, car, or sports figure. While you don’t see many Geocities or Angelfire domains around today, there are still some high-quality websites out there built by fans.

One such website is Thrill22.com – The Will Clark Baseball Card Gallery. I followed up until about 1993, and then started seeing some cards that I don’t recall, so I guess that’s about the time I gave up on collecting. He really has a nice collection, and it was cool to go through and look at the various photographs and artwork that appeared on the cards during (and after) Clark’s career. He will be remember as one of the greatest, though for a very short time.

Another great website that I stumbled upon this morning is The Mark Grace Website. Not only is there a very cool gallery of Grace’s baseball cards, there is also a well-written and though-out piece about his chances at the Hall of Fame. Written by a fan, I was surprised at the analytical approach to Grace’s candidacy and the writer’s conclusion that no, Grace probably will not reside in Cooperstown as an immortal–at least not by the votes of the BBWAA. Grace’s immortality rests more with the Veteran’s Committee, which means it will be close to twenty years before he is seriously considered.

Personally, I would love to see Grace in the Hall. But I would also love to see Dave Concepcion there. And honestly, if neither Dale Murphy or Don Mattingly make it, I’m not sure Grace or Concepcion should either. That said, I really like the fantasy plaque appearing at the bottom of the article:

Looking forward to 2009…

Here it is, not even two weeks into 2008, and already I’m looking forward to 2008. That happens every January, when the Hall of Fame announces their current inductees. People immediately begin talking about the next year. I’ve written a couple of posts dealing with the holdovers from this year’s election, but haven’t made any mention of newcomers to the ballot next year.

The no-brainer for 2009 is the ageless Rickey Henderson, the all-time stolen base leader. No, he won’t receive 100% of the votes because of some writers’ resistance to voting for first timers on the ballot, but he should rake in well over 90%. Really, no discussion needs to take place here. Rickey is one of the all-time greats.

We come next to Mark Grace, the consistent first basemen who spent his career with the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks. Grace made a splash on the major league scene his rookie year, finishing second to Chris Sabo for the 1988 Rookie of the Year award. One of the most consistent hitters of the 1990s, Grace finished his career with 2445 hits (100th on the all-time list) and a .303 batting average. He never hit for power, his highest season total being 17 dingers in 1998, and he never drove in many runs, 98 being his career-high in 1993. As consistent as Grace was, however, he was never dominant. I expect he will receive 10-15% support, but never rise much higher than 20% in his time on the ballot.

Other first-timers next year will include David Cone, Ron Gant, Greg Vaughn, Mo Vaughn, and Matt Williams. Certainly stars during their time, but not even close to HOF credentials. It would not surprise me if 2009 is their last time on the ballot.

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